Saturday, 26 December 2009

Imperial Winter Series Boxing Day Race

A tradition far more wholesome and less controversial than the Boxing Day Hunts is the Imperial Winter Series Boxing Day Races which I took part in for the first time today.  A stiff wind down the backstraight made any breakaways virtually impossible though some (including my teammate for over a lap) had a good go.  Seemed faster than recent weeks but that must have been an effect of the wind, as was the dropping of a fair few this week.  I was finding it difficult to keep tabs on what was going on, mistaking two dropped riders at one point for a break.  I was there for the sprint but barely and got obstructed by a slower rider taking a racing line through the S bends oblivious to anyone behind.  That's racing: you have to be both strong and in the right place.
Average speed 23.1

Sunday, 20 December 2009

Imperial Winter Series Race 3 - Saturday 19th December 2009

Not quite so many on the start line this time around.  Perhaps the freezing temperature had something to do with that.  By the start time the worst of the ice had been chipped off the circuit or hidden under strategically placed cones.  After a lap or two the cold no longer mattered.  I felt good and at no time got trapped at the back, though the smaller field definitely helped there.  Unhappily there was a crash immediately ahead of me on the last lap coming out of the tight bend.  I had to stop for that but then restarted and about six of us passed the 3rd cats (who not only moved over but shouted encouragement) and sprinted for the line for who knows what lowly position (21st it turns out!)
Average speed 23.6mph.

Friday, 18 December 2009

The Helmet Debate Drags On

The Transport Research Laboratory has this week published a further paper on the effectiveness of cycle helmets.  A long report that concludes that
"Cycle helmets would be expected to be effective in a range of accident conditions particularly the most common accidents that do not involve a collision with another vehicle, often simply falls or tumbles over the handlebars and also when the mechanism of injury involves another vehicle glancing the cyclist or tipping them over causing their head to strike the ground."
It would, I suppose, be genuinely astonishing if it were found that helmets were of no use in protecting the head in any circumstance.  I have a clubmate who found his particularly helpful when caught unawares by a descending carpark barrier.  I sometimes have wished I was wearing mine in the kitchen when my head has contacted an open cupboard door.
The TRL report expressly says it does not deal with the vexed question of risk compensation, whereby people's behaviour changes as a consequence of seeing themselves or others as less vulnerable.  Nor does it deal with the questions whether the wearing of helmets should be encouraged or mandated, but its conclusions probably mean that we should not be expecting any change in the Highway Code's advice to cyclists to wear a helmet (accompanied by a vulnerable looking cyclist cowering in the gutter).
Whether this report will provide further impetus to motor insurers to blame cyclists for head injuries because they have not worn a helmet remains to be seen.  What I will say is that in no case yet has a Court determined that a cyclist both ought to have been wearing a helmet and that it would have made any difference.  No deduction for contributory negligence has therefore been made by a Court to date.  Cyclists and their lawyers should bear that in mind when a reduction is suggested.
I have already expressed my views on contributory negligence here.  Nothing in the latest paper changes my view.  It is so much more important that people cycle than that they cycle with helmets and the Australian experience demonstrates that you cannot encourage both.  It is so much more important that accidents are prevented than that we are forced to look to personal protection to hope to minimise their effect.
So when we see a famous footballer taking his children out for a bicycle ride let us applaud him for getting on a bike and not attack him because he has chosen not to wear a helmet.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

The trouble with cycle lanes

I am not a fan.  On my commute in this morning I was using a cycle lane to filter on the nearside past stationary traffic in Isleworth when a right turning car took me out.  I landed rather ungracefully on his bonnet.  Fortunately neither of us was going very fast (15mph my Garmin says) and I am essentially unhurt.  Looking at Google Maps (me left to right in that very narrow cycle lane) I see that the lane markings have changed since the satellite photograph as the cycle lane now extends past the driveway to the bus stop.   I would normally overtake on the offside but the cycle lane meant the stationary traffic was further out so, with a central traffic island, there was no room.  When passing a side road I am always in the primary position or to the offside of stationary traffic but I had not noticed this driveway nor had I seen the gap in traffic that enabled the oncoming car to turn right into my path.
I can now confirm that not all accidents are reported to the police.  I shall not bother [edit: actually I shall; I will try to report by email and see if the Metropolitan Police now make reporting easy]- the last time I was taken out on a roundabout and ended up in hospital the police agreed not to prosecute the motorist if she went on a course.  I will report it to CTC's SMIDSY campaign instead.

Sunday, 13 December 2009

The week that was


Law enforcement at the most basic level seems to me to leave something to be desired.  On my daily commutes last week I saw a woman cyclist pulled over by a 4x4 police vehicle who had stopped to hand out a fixed penalty for contravention of a traffic light.  Fair enough I suppose (always assuming she had not passed the line to be visible to an HGV) but I have never ever seen a motorist stopped for using a handheld mobile 'phone or for contravention of an advanced stop line or indeed for jumping a red light though I see scores of such offences every day.  The police are after all responding to the concerns of the popular press who almost daily call for a crack down on 'rogue cyclists'.

When Westminster councillor Angela Harvey spoke to The Times last week to support a proposal to allow traffic wardens power to fine errant cyclists she told them that:
“We’re always getting little old ladies who are knocked down and abused by a cyclist, who leaves them on the ground as they ride away.  The police are the only people who have the ability to enforce this issue, and they just aren’t taking this seriously enough. There are more of our officers on the street than there are police at any given time, so it is a sensible solution.”
Meanwhile BBC news reports a recent study which has confirmed what we all know, that mobile 'phone use amongst motorists is common-place.  Motorists now appreciate that the risks of a penalty are negligible and use hand held 'phones no less than they did before legislation banning their use.

Ms Harvey seems to me to be a bit like the sherriff in the lawless frontier town who does not dare to tackle the bandits with the shotguns, but instead urges her deputies to deal with the kids with the pea-shooters.  Let's exaggerate the harm done by the pea-shooters and turn a blind eye to the death and destruction threatened by the untouchables.

Saturday, 12 December 2009

Imperial Winter Series Race 2

A fine day but with a stiff northerly wind for the second race of the Winter Series.  3 Thames Velo riders in the 4th cat event and 2 in the 3rds today - a record at least in recent years.  We were given advice on the start line as to how to avoid last week's difficulties with the coming together of the two races but in fact the problem solved itself this week.  Perhaps we 4th cats were marginally faster, or the 3rd cats marginally slower or both, but we were blissfully undisturbed by each other.  The field was not quite as crowded as last week's 70 riders but was still fairly full.  I aimed to keep near the front for at least the first 30 minutes.  For a short moment I thought I might have made it into a break of 5 but the pack has a capacity to put on an impressive burst of speed both to reel in any breaks and to leave me for standing in the final lap.  My teammate Andy fared better, in only his second race, he got towards the front and stayed there until the final sprint.
Average speed 24mph

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Imperial Winter Series - Saturday 5th December

At last - racing again in the Imperial Winter series run by the terrific Doug and Lucy Collins.  Met up with my teammates Andy and Paul, the former a first time 4th cat and the latter a seasoned 3rd.  I got a puncture warming up which I noticed at the start line at 1pm (the start time).  I asked Doug for a spare wheel but he told me I had time to change my tube.  Well obviously he doesn't know just how slow I am.  By the time I got back to the car, fixed the punture and returned to the circuit they had all started.  The Commissaire kindly let me join a lap late; well that is one way of getting to the front early on.  As my club coach noted I can stay near the front for the first half of the race but seem to lose this ability later on.  For me it all fell apart a bit as the 3rd cats went by as it took for ever and for that period it was impossible to pull out and move back towards the front.  I came in at the back of the bunch as did Andy (brilliant, for my first few races I was lapped).  We hung around long enough to see Paul come in in the rear portion of his bunch.
For a full account of this (and many other) races see Lance Woodman's blog.
Average Speed 24 mph.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Traffic Lights


In my last post I referred obliquely to trials of innovative traffic solutions.  The traffic lights on the A30 outside Ashford Hospital were down on my commute in this morning.  This is a busy junction in the morning rush, yet I was able to get across without stopping as vehicles yielded the right of way more or less in turn.  To do this the traffic (including me!) had to slow to walking pace and I saw an elderly pedestrian cross the A30 without apparent difficulty.  I do not know sufficient to judge whether this would be a good idea at all junctions but I am gaining sympathy for the view that we have too many traffic lights and that appropriate traffic calming may enable junctions to be safer without lights.
Such a 'free for all' would though require a hierachy of vehicles, with motorists giving way to cyclists and both giving way to pedestrians such that in a collision the driver of the larger type of vehicle would at least bear the burden of demonstrating in a civil case that the accident was not his fault.  I have described this as akin to the system prevailing in some European countries.  This is of course a simplification of a complex piece of comparative law which I may attempt in a future post.  The burden is harder to shift in some countries and in some circumstances than in others.
Finally, I am gratified that a number of people have been kind enough to express appreciation of my last post.

Friday, 13 November 2009

Cycling against the car culture

[Warning:this is a long blog.  A shortened version has now been published in the New Law Journal]

            Last year (2008) 2,538 people were killed in the United Kingdom due directly to the presence of motor vehicles on the roads.  A further 229,000 a year were injured.  Countless others suffer detrimental effects from the emissions, noise and even fear of road traffic.  Motor vehicles are furthermore a major source of carbon emissions, whose contribution to global warming is now surely doubted only by those with a strong vested interest and the mildly deranged.  A human activity which causes this level of carnage ought to be subjected to serious scrutiny and control.  However the convenience of the personal automobile has led over the last century to the development of a car culture which largely exempts motoring from the strict regulation of other areas of life in which poor practice costs lives (construction sites, workplaces, product liability, aviation, infectious disease and even dangerous animals).
            The main tenets of this car culture can be summarised as follows:
1.         The inevitable attrition is a price well worth paying (by unknown others) in return for individual autonomy and convenience (often now described as necessary to the way in which we live our lives).
2.         Every physically competent adult has a right to drive, removable only as a punishment for serious or repeated criminal offending and, even then, only temporarily.
3.         Conduct which might be regarded as dangerous in any other walk of life is, in a motorist, merely careless and that which would otherwise be careless is excusable.  This tenet is coloured by a sense of ‘There but for the grace of God, go I’ in the mind of the individual scrutinising the conduct in question.
4.         Road safety efforts should be focussed upon segregating the vulnerable road user from motorised traffic (at the expense of ensuring the safe sharing of road space) and upon encouraging, or even mandating, personal protection to ameliorate the consequences of the collisions which are accepted as inevitable.
5.         A myopic view of the fundamental laws of physics which permits motorists to argue that their responsibilities and actions in controlling 1,000+ kgs at up to 70mph should be judged in a similar manner to those controlling less than 100kgs at up to about 20mph.  It is not necessary to be an apologist for red light jumping or pavement riding cyclists to point out that the risks they pose are many orders of magnitude less than the risks to pedestrians and cyclists from poorly controlled motor vehicles

            There are some signs that the car culture runs deep within our justice system, which arguably lags Parliament’s and Governments’ (central and local) efforts to restore a balance between motorised and alternative modes of personal transport.  The bicycle is not only an inspired individual response to the difficulties of getting around but also a solution to the general problem of traffic congestion.  The individual cyclist who leaves the car at home is freeing up road-space, reducing risk for all other road users and benefiting the environment for all.  Even the cyclist who makes a trip that would not otherwise be made by car presents a negligible risk to others.  The number of pedestrians killed by cyclists is similar to the number killed by golf balls; in each case too small to register on statistics, but on the few occasions per decade that it does occur accompanied by much publicity.

            Cycling is not, on any rationale scale, a dangerous activity.  It is, however, often perceived as dangerous because of the cyclist’s inherent vulnerability and it remains, per mile travelled, significantly more dangerous than driving, a trend that the recently released statistics for the second quarter of 2009 reveal to be moving in the wrong direction.   The perception of danger is heightened by the suggestion that protective headgear is a necessity.  In a collision between a bicycle and a motor vehicle the cyclist will come off worse, with the motorist virtually invulnerable (save to any subsequent legal sanction).  While bearing the relative risks in mind, it is nonetheless worth reminding cyclists that in a collision with a pedestrian, the pedestrian will often come off worse (though the cyclist will still not have the invulnerability of the motorist).

            It is a mark of a civilised society that the law protects the weak from unwarranted harm inflicted by the strong.  It is important for cyclists to know that they share the roads with motorists who have an obligation to take care around them and that those who do not will be called properly to account.  When a motor vehicle strikes a cyclist, and particularly when a fatality results, it is of the utmost importance that a thorough investigation take place, that where the facts warrant it a prosecution is pursued for the appropriate offence (without requiring a near certainty of conviction), and that following any conviction a deterrent sentence is passed.  The car culture needs addressing at each of these levels.

Investigation and prosecution

            In early June 2008, Marie Vesco, a 19 year old from France who had recently settled in this country, was cycling in a group of around a dozen from London to Brighton.  They were travelling on the A23 and had to negotiate a junction where the nearside lane of three became an exit slip road.  To travel straight on the group had therefore to cross the nearside lane.  This is what Ms Vesco was doing when she was hit first by a car taking the exit and then by another car following close behind.  A short police report concluded, somewhat lamely, that Ms Vesco and the driver of the first car had either separately or jointly failed to judge each other’s intentions.  There was no proper analysis of whether the car should have been attempting to overtake the cyclists in those circumstances or whether the cyclists were afforded sufficient space or whether the next car was following a safe distance behind.  The CPS decided not to prosecute, a decision that was unhappily communicated to the distraught family too late for them to consider a private prosecution.  The A23 is not a motorway (perhaps it should be but that is a separate matter), it is thus a road available to all traffic.  However the car culture tenet of segregation suggests that the cyclists should not be anywhere near fast moving traffic, detracting from the fact that motorists should recognise that the nature of the road and junction, combined with the awful consequences of a collision at speed, called for extreme care in overtaking the cyclists.

            It is worth noting that in Ms Vesco’s home country it is a requirement that traffic overtaking a cyclist allow a margin of 1.5m (5 feet), and this self evidently needs to be increased with the speed of the passing vehicle.  Here the Highway Code (rule 163) requires motorists to give vulnerable road users they are overtaking ‘at least as much space as you would a car’ implying (though not without some unfortunate ambiguity) a similar, roughly 5.5 foot, margin.  In no industrial or other context would a reduction in a like margin of safety be regarded as acceptable, yet on the roads it is both commonplace and excused.

            One month after Ms Vesco’s tragedy, in July 2008, Anthony Maynard, a 25 year old experienced cyclist was on an evening training ride with other members of the Reading Cycling Club.  By the time he reached Bix on the A4130 dual carriageway near Henley he was with just one other club-mate.  Both were struck by a van that had overtaken another vehicle and then pulled in to the nearside lane killing Mr Maynard and injuring his companion.  No prosecution was brought apparently on the basis that the van driver had been dazzled by the sun and could not therefore see what was, or was not, in the road space that he was driving into at speed.  Again some might be forgiven for suspecting that the car culture assumed that vulnerable road users should be out of the way and that it need not occur to a motorist that the space he is blindly driving into might contain cyclists.

            In contrast one can only gape in astonishment at the series of choices made by the police, the CPS and District Judge Bruce Morgan that, in 2006, led to Daniel Cadden’s conviction for inconsiderate cycling.  His offence was using the road on his commute home through Telford where he was cycling at around 20mph.  Initially the police stopped him for riding in the road position which is recommended by the cyclists’ bible ‘Cyclecraft’ and taught on bikeability cycle training courses; that is, he was cycling in a position well out from the nearside edge of the road.  It was belatedly appreciated that, wherever Mr Cadden was positioned across the road, traffic could not overtake him, in accordance with rule 163 mentioned above, without crossing double white lines in the centre of the carriageway.  It is partly to discourage dangerous attempts by motorists to ‘squeeze by’ that a cyclist should often take the position Mr Cadden was adopting.  District Judge Morgan, who had the benefit of expert evidence from the author of ‘Cyclecraft’ John Franklin, nonetheless convicted Mr Cadden on the basis that it was inconsiderate to ride on the road at all, rather than on a separate cycle path.  Interestingly, advice from the Department of Transport in its proposed Code of Conduct for Cyclists is, “As a general rule, if you want to cycle quickly, say in excess of 18 mph/30 kph, then you should be riding on the road.”  Mr Morgan’s credentials as an adherent of the car culture cannot be faulted; he had earlier acquitted of speeding and dangerous driving PC Milton who was clocked driving an unmarked police vehicle at well over twice the speed limit on a motorway and other roads.  Both of DJ Morgan’s decisions were overturned on appeal but there remains a striking contrast between the police, prosecution and judicial time and effort directed towards the literally harmless Mr Cadden and that directed towards motorists who have run down cyclists.

Sentence

            In September 2009 two appeals against sentence came before the Court of Appeal.  In one, Darren Hall appealed a sentence of seven months detention in a young offenders’’ institution following his guilty plea to the offence of wanton and furious carriage driving contrary to section 35 of the Offences against the Person Act 1861 (a bicycle being deemed a carriage in Victorian legislation).  He had in August 2008 been riding his bicycle on the pavement in Weymouth when, after turning a corner at speed, he collided with Mr Ronald Turner who died some days later from a pulmonary embolism attributable to the collision. Mr Hall was young (20 at the time of the collision) and stopped to render assistance (had Mr Hall been a motorist, the sentencing guidelines relating to causing death by driving make clear that this would be treated as a mitigating factor). 

His appeal against his detention was dismissed by the Court of Appeal who observed that he ought to have realised that if he collided with an elderly or infirm pedestrian it was entirely possible that serious injury might ensue. “It was the sort of cycling which, in our judgment, created at least some risk of danger.  It was, therefore, not far short of dangerous cycling”.  The logic of this cannot be faulted, although it is worth pondering why cyclists not infrequently ride on pavements.  They should not do so, but so long as the car culture sends out the message that cyclists are not welcome, or safe, on the roads but should be separated from, and thus out of the way, of motor traffic, the unfortunate practice is likely to persist.  It is rather encouraged by the strategy adopted by many Highway Authorities of providing for cyclists by painting bicycle paths on the pavement instead of ensuring that traffic is calmed appropriately for shared use of the road.

In the other case Matthew Rice appealed a sentence imposed at Peterborough Crown Court of 20 weeks imprisonment and a two year driving ban for the offence of causing death by careless driving introduced by section 20 of the Road Safety Act 2006.   Mr Rice had been driving home along a narrow country lane near Fenstanton in Cambridgeshire at about 6pm on a Friday in November.  He was third in a line of three vehicles headed by a car travelling at 40 to 45mph.  This was not a sufficient rate of progress for either Miss Buckingham (driving the car second in line) or Mr Rice.  Mr Rice pulled out to overtake both the cars ahead of him but Miss Buckingham then pulled out to overtake as well.  Mr Rice could no longer see what lay ahead but nonetheless remained behind Miss Buckingham to overtake the lead car.  A fit cyclist, Mark Robinson, was riding in the opposite direction.  His front light was seen by the driver of the lead car and was described by another witness as ‘quite brightly lit’.  Miss Buckingham saw him just in time and was able to regain her correct side of the carriageway without a collision.  Mr Rice did not see Mr Robinson until it was too late.  The road was not wide enough for two cars and a bicycle and there was a head on collision, at a closing speed of about 70 mph, in which Mr Robinson tragically died.

Mr Rice was driving fast on the wrong side of the road in circumstances where he could not see what was coming towards him.  In any ordinary sense of the word this is dangerous.  Using the words aptly applied to Mr Hall’s cycling, it was the sort of driving which created at least some risk of danger and was, therefore, not far short of dangerous driving.  However the Crown had agreed with the Defence that this was not close to the border of dangerous driving but was in the middle range of careless driving.  Comparisons were then made with the fate of Miss Buckingham who had been convicted of careless driving and failing to stop and received a fine of £300 with a disqualification from driving for nine months.  It was thought that the levels of culpability were the same with a difference only in the consequences.  This seems charitable to Mr Rice; Miss Buckingham could see where she was going and, albeit late, saw Mr Robinson in time to avoid a collision.  Had it not been for Mr Rice’s actions no accident would have occurred and (as any cyclist who has tried reporting a ‘close shave’ will know) it is inconceivable that she would have faced any prosecution. 

There was further concern expressed about the far lower powers of sentencing available had the accident resulted in serious injury rather than death, though the Court did acknowledge that Parliament had singled out the consequence of death as calling for particular sanction.  Of course the lack of draconian sentencing power, had the consequence been serious injury, results also from the peculiar reluctance to condemn as ‘dangerous’ actions which in any context, other than driving, would be unhesitatingly so described.   Charging decisions are important.  Judge Peter Moss when sentencing a man (R v Robertson Guildford Crown Court 10.11.09) who had used his car to run down and seriously injure a cyclist rightly expressed his sentencing powers (2 years custody) for dangerous driving as “absurdly low and incomprehensible” given the facts of that case, but he may have been assisted by a more imaginative decision to prosecute for assault occasionally actual bodily harm which carries a maximum of 5 years.  Prosecutors here might learn from the course taken by Los Angeles prosecutors in the case of Dr Christopher Thompson, who was this month convicted on seven counts including assault with a deadly weapon after a road rage incident resulting in two injured cyclists.  [January 2010 - now sentenced to 5 years.] 

In the event in Rice’s case, the Court of Appeal decided that it was not sufficiently clear that the Judge had considered suspending the custodial sentence and since the Court of Appeal thought that was the appropriate course, they duly suspended the sentence.   This could be said to be different from Mr Hall’s treatment, though it may be that there was some good reason, which is not clear from the report, why a suspension of Mr Hall’s sentence would have been inappropriate.

The Court of Appeal then considered Mr Rice’s appeal against his two year driving ban.   The Court sympathised with the predicament of a man who had chosen a life-style which made a driving ban a serious impediment to keeping his job and reduced the ban from 2 years to 12 months.  This is the same period for which Mr Hall was disqualified from holding a driving licence as a consequence of his offence committed on a bicycle.

Finally it is to be noted that the sentencing guideline’s aggravating feature of failing to take extra care around vulnerable road users was not invoked against Mr Rice.  True he did not know he was in the vicinity of a cyclist until it was too late but he was driving nearly literally blindly into a space which foreseeably contained a cyclist.

In May 2009, Denis Moore, received a suspended prison sentence at Durham Crown Court following his conviction of causing death by careless driving.  He had struck and killed a cyclist, Mr Jorgensen, as a consequence of failing to accord him the right of way on a roundabout.  As noted, the causing death by driving sentencing guidelines identify cyclists, amongst others, as vulnerable road users, and state that a driver is expected to take extra care when driving near them.  Driving too near to a bicycle or horse is an aggravating factor.  The guidelines go on to indicate that where the actions of the victim or a third party contributed to the commission of the offence that should be acknowledged as a mitigating factor.  In passing sentence Judge Lowden referred to defence counsel’s submission that Mr Jorgensen’s lack of a helmet was a mitigating feature.  It is not clear whether this is in fact what tipped the balance against an immediate custodial sentence and it would be deeply disturbing if it was.  There appeared to be few other potentially mitigating features (and indeed Mr Moore had been habitually driving for years unsupervised with a provisional licence).  The absence of a helmet clearly did not contribute to the commission of the careless driving, and the section 20 offence is more serious than careless driving because of the consequences, not the other circumstances, of the offence.  Whether a helmet would in fact have made any difference is highly questionable and is unlikely to have been investigated at a sentencing hearing.  But in any event, even if Mr Jorgensen was more vulnerable as a consequence of being helmetless, then, as Darren Hall’s case illustrates, the vulnerability of the victim is no mitigation.

Presumptions of Liability

            A storm was recently provoked when it emerged that the Government advisory body, Cycling England, planned to recommend that, in civil cases, an onus of proving that the accident was not their fault be placed on motorists who collide with vulnerable road users.  The details of the recommendations, still less their prospects of acceptance, remain unclear.  Press reports of a strict liability, regardless of fault, are probably a distortion.  More likely is a proposal to adopt a system akin to that which is widespread in other European countries; that the motorist is at fault unless proved otherwise.  Variants include a general assumption that the driver of the larger vehicle is to blame, thus the presumption is against cyclists in collisions with pedestrians.  Few cases in practice turn upon the burden of proof.  The heavier and faster the vehicle you chose to control, the more danger you present to others.  A recognition that this imposes a correspondingly greater duty and, in the event of accident, comes with a burden of proof may constitute one small step towards the shift in culture required and would be a useful precursor to any trials of innovative traffic solutions which involve the removal of traffic lights and other junction controls.

Conclusion

The car culture has developed over generations and will not change overnight.  Rising levels of congestion, pollution, obesity and recognition of climate change have led to Government action to encourage cycling, particularly as an alternative to motoring.  To an extent these efforts are succeeding and there has been a rise in the number of cyclists on the roads in recent years.  Cycling remains though a minority activity and one major challenge is in enticing individuals to trade the virtual invulnerability of a motor car, where the risks are borne by others, for the vulnerability of the cyclist to the mistakes of motorists.  The risks to the cyclist are not in truth as high as they are often perceived and are more than counterbalanced by the health benefits of exercise.  However the perception, aided and reinforced by segregation and requirements for personal protection, feeds the reluctance of cyclists to take to the roads.  Potential road cyclists as a consequence remain in the car or ride on the pavement.  Mr Turner, no less than Ms Vesco, Mr Maynard, Mr Robinson and Mr Jorgensen, was a victim of the car culture.

It is crucial that when cyclists do take to the roads the risks to them posed by motorists are minimised and this requires a willingness to challenge the car culture.  Police, Prosecutors and Judges, as well as legislators, have an important role to play in achieving this. 

Friday, 18 September 2009

Ronde Picarde Saturday 12th September 2009

With a bit of lucky timing at the Eurotunnel, we made it this year from home to the sign on in Abbeville in 3 ½ hours, which meant I got there at 1958 French time, 2 minutes before the advertised closing time. Tents were already being taken down, the guy checking the electronic tags had turned his laptop off and the bags of goodies had plainly run out. However I got the bare essentials minus sufficient ties for transponder and number, and headed west into a glorious sunset to the usual cabin by the golf-course.


There I assembled the bike, tied the number on using dental floss and inserted into my rear bottle carrier the sawn off tonic bottle which was all part of the plan to avoid last year’s disaster at the water station.


The following dawn saw me up having breakfast and going easy on the coffee in an attempt to avoid a stop behind a hedge later in the day. In the gathering light I made the 15 minute ride back to the start, caught up by part of a large group from the Midlands who had discovered Virginie’s accommodation. I got there with half an hour to spare – thus far things were going better than last year but it was not to last. My ranking in my category last year had secured me a place in the front start pen with a lot of ferociously fit looking racers. No need, it seemed to me, to worry about where in the front pen I started so I spent a bit of time looking about for my team-mate with no success, before settling into some idle conversation with some guys from Carlisle who did the 113 miles in under 5 hours last year.


At 0804 we set off for the mad dash out of Abbeville with the speed soon picking up to 30 mph as we blasted southeast. However as we reached the first roundabout outside Abbeville the riding became very hairy. The lead vehicles slowed to below the pace of the peleton and we all bunched up behind, with the foolhardy picking past the strong, my speed dropping from 32 mph to 12. Once past the roundabout the pace picked right up again. There was a high speed crash as we zoomed through Epagnette to Eaucourt. Then the sharp turns as we left the main road and the delay getting over the narrow bridge before we wound up again as we headed south towards where I had expected the first hill. However this year we diverted from the route of previous years and headed straight to Bellifountaine avoiding the worst of the hill and gradually separating out into large groups.


As we went south to Oisement a strong wind made itself apparent especially after we had crossed the motorway for the first time and headed northwest. The wind must have been heading somewhere out of the Northeast. The echelon spread left across the road, with the first handful of riders, and then strung out in a long line all on the far left. Fortunately there were motorcycles everywhere warning oncoming traffic to get off the road. The wind strengthened and riders desperately tried to get shelter from each other, which was the probable cause of a sudden crash right in the middle of the peleton alongside me.


Speed remained high and I hit 30mph again on the descent down to the seaside town of Ault. The road surface was untypically poor and I had drifted towards the back on this descent. As I turned sharp right for the short 25% ascent out of the town, my way was blocked by cyclists trying to pick their way past a parked car that was obstructing much of the road. It was a real challenge not to stop or fall off and my Garmin records a speed of 3 mph. By the time I got to the top of the hill I was off the back-stupid really as that is what happened to me last year. So with 3 others we struggled into the powerful headwind, finally re-establishing contact with the bunch as they slowed for the roundabout at Hautebat. The 2 mile chase had worn me out though and I suffered for it soon.


Heading back to the coast we were back into a strong crosswind. Again there was a string of riders along the left side of the road. However close I was to the side of the road someone would come further to my left to try to take shelter from me. I couldn’t seem to find shelter for myself and gave up just before Cayeaux and headed through Brighton in a small group that had been shelled from the back. I was still struggling and at around St Valery, I decided to stop, pause behind a hedge to avoid the need for delay later on, and carry on at a gentle pace waiting for the next group.


The next group came by shortly before the bifurcation came up. This group was fine to begin with and I was even spending a fair bit of time at, or at least towards, the front of it. At the water sation my sawn off tonic bottle served its purpose well, I picked up two bottles one went into my makeshift holder, the other into my back pocket. There was welcome relief from the wind provided by the Forest of Crecy which sheltered us somewhat. However as we emerged from the forest the cross wind was back with a vengeance and I was struggling yet again. Shortly after Noyelles, when a hill combined with everything else, I got dropped for the second time.

I was on my own for nearly all the remaining 20 miles. I was passed by a pair doing a 2 up that involved riding side by side taking it in turns to be in the crosswind. As I got to the last hill I spied a large group behind and decided I would try and keep ahead of them. By now there was a tailwind so I time trailed back to the finish.




After the pasta, beer and chips at the finish, it was time to return to Virginie’s for the now customary Champagne




Total time this year was 05:42, good enough for Gold, but a disappointment after last year’s rather better performance. I came in 282nd, one hour behind the winner and 102nd in my age category. For the first time I had a slower time than the preceding year.


Still a great ride and as always thoroughly recommended.

Monday, 7 September 2009

Helmets

I do not cover my professional activities on these pages and have thus far avoided the question of helmets. However I have a letter in this week's Cycling Weekly responding to a call from another cyclist to 'wear your helmet'. It is one thing to hear this from a non cycling Judge (as to which I have vented my views in the New Law Journal and elsewhere, see http://www.newlawjournal.co.uk/nlj/content/personal-injury-blame-victim); I do worry though when cyclists themselves look to secondary and uncertain hope of injury reduction rather than the avoidance of accidents. I would like to see increased criminal penalties for those who speed, use mobile phones or drive carelessly/inconsiderately in the vicinity of a vulnerable road user. I say this as a cyclist rather than a lawyer but am all too aware of the lack of zeal often exhibited by prosecuting authorities in motoring cases.

Thames Velo Hillingdon Crit Saturday 5th September


My club's turn at Hillingdon today so after a very inactive August I raced again. This week's crash was in the simultaneously run E/1/2/3 race and they were just picking themselves up as the 4th cat race came through. Had a few digs off the front but nothing lasted and the inevitable bunch sprint at the end is not for me. I finished in time to gawk in admiration at the two man leading break in the senior race containing my recent team mate, Harry Bulstrode, who chose our race to get the necessary points for Elite status. Tragically he punctured with 3 laps to go but still kept ahead of the chasing break of 5 to come in 2nd. One day I hope to emulate that with a break that works.

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Etape du Tour Montelimar to Mt Ventoux Monday 20th July

On Saturday 18th I went up Mt Ventoux and stopped
to pay homage to Tom Simpson. It was a mild but very very windy day. I felt in genuine fear of being blown off the mountain. A manageable ride when you start at Bedoin with fresh legs but it will of course be rather different on the etape with a 90 mile warm up before the climb.







Monday turned out to be a hot day. Echoes of the 2007 etape there, especially climbing the first half of Mt Ventoux when the drink station could not come soon enough. Further up it was glorious with only a light wind, not the blow you off the mountain type wind of 2 days earlier. Overall a cracking ride on a cracking day. Took this photo from the mountain top finish looking down on a ant like line of cyclists.


















Here are some (real) times:


Dimitri Champion 05:11:31 (winner)
Erik Zabel 06:48:44
Martin Porter 07:31:29
Chris Boardman 08:09:46
Brian Cookson 09:50:32 (BC President)
James Benning 09:50:41 (Clubmate)

There is now a full report on my club website

http://www.thamesvelo.org.uk/pages/etape09.html

Monday, 22 June 2009

Gran Fondo Sportful Sunday 21st June




Just returned from Feltre in the Dolomites where I took part in the Gran Fondo which has just changed its name from Campagnolo to Sportful. Nothing else has changed though. In particular the 216km and 5,300m climbing route remains the same as last year. A tough day but with rewards in the form of fantastic views. I posted a fairly leisurely 10h54m but I am just not sufficiently practised at those very fast descents.

Sunday, 7 June 2009

Highclere Castle Cyclosportive Sunday 7th June

A chance to put some long lumpy miles in on this attractive ride. Luckily the rain held off during the ride itself; there was plenty just before and just after. My 4th year at this and I had hoped to beat last year's 07:20. However I was beset by punctures today so way off. I did get to practice fixing punctures by the side of the road.
I read the debate about the value of cyclosportives in the cycling press with interest. My view is that anything that gets people out on bikes is good and there were certainly plenty for this impeccably planned event.

Thursday, 4 June 2009

Surrey league Handicap Race Thursday 4th June 2009

Second time I have done this and I have enjoyed it hugely each time. The Kitsmead Lane road circuit is a short ride from home and the handicap format leaves a great deal more scope for tactical thinking and especially cooperative riding. Today the last group off started more than a lap behind the first (which naturally included me), who rather unwisely tried to latch on. It could not, and did not, last. I was caught by the second group off (3rd cats?) but we stayed away from the later groups so I am hoping for another top 20 placing.

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Hillingdon 4th Cat Crits Tuesday 2nd June 2009

My first appearance this year at the summer evening series at Hillingdon. The race was abandoned after 40 minutes as an ambulance was on the circuit dealing with a fallen rider. I hope she recovers soon. A stark reminder that Hillingdon can be a hazardous place. Crashes there are not uncommon, though abandoning the race is. Most of the best things in life involve some degree of risk. The advantage of a closed circuit is that it removes from the equation the motor vehicle, which is of course the source of almost all catastrophic injury to cyclists.

Monday, 1 June 2009

Safety in Numbers for Cyclists

Gwyn Prosser MP has tabled an Early Day Motion (EDM 1431) drawing attention to the correlation between safety for cyclists and the number of cyclists on the roads. It follows the CTC's launch of a campaign for a target of doubling cycling use. So far 102 MPs have signed it. I have tried twice to get my MP, who mentions cycling on his cv, to join them but have just got his letter stating he does not generally sign EDMs. I note that he has signed 5 EDMs this session including one about a BBC magazine launch and, in an earlier session, one about flags flying above public buildings. Unlike some of our elected representatives, his ethics are flawless but I wish I could influence his priorities.

Sunday, 31 May 2009

Chiltern 100 Sunday 31st May 2009

Got a late return from someone unable to do this ride up and down the Chiltern Hills so went for it. A beautiful day and great scenery but what a difference a week can make. Today I was suffering and struggling. A few more hills, a few more degrees and rougher roads. Got a silver but was even happier to finish. Somehow I was so much more comfortable on the bike for the Fred Whitton and the Tour of Wessex.
Postscipt: just opened my goody bag and was interested to find bottles of ecological chainlube and degreaser. I will definitely give these a go.

Saturday, 30 May 2009

DfT Consultation on safe roads

The Department for Transport is consulting on 'making Britian's roads the safest in the world'. Comments have to be made by 14th July, see http://www.dft.gov.uk/consultations/open/roadsafetyconsultation/
My contribution was as follows:
"Good as far as it goes but it lacks any proposal to educate motorists to give adequate room to cyclists. This requires them to understand that overtaking a cyclist is a manoeuvre that needs to be executed like overtaking any other vehicle and will usually necessitate changing lane. Close passing of cyclists and aggression towards cyclists who take appropriate space on the roads are major deterrents for cycling. The more cycling there is the more likely targets based on injuries per distance travelled will be reached."
Now is the opportunity for us cyclists to make ourselves heard. Cycling in this country is reasonably safe in statistical terms, but far too many tragic and unnecessary deaths are occurring. A significant barrier to popular cycling will be overcome when it can be demonstrated to be no more hazardous than driving a car.

Friday, 29 May 2009

A30 Crooked Billet to Clockhouse Roundabouts

This road forms the worst part of my commute. It is dual carriageway, 40mph limit, relatively light of traffic and theoretically good for cycling since there is plenty of roadspace to share. However I have had too many close encounters with drivers who just do not want to give the necessary room. I have raised my concerns with both the Highway Agency's agent, Mouchel, and Transport for London. I have now had sensible responses from both. However their focus for future improvement (should funds ever be available) is a cycle track. I would rather see speed limit enforcement, advance stop lines at the lights, traffic calming and education to motorists to give cyclists room and share the road with courtesy. I worry about the mentality of encouraging cyclists off the road and out of the way.

Maidenhead 10 mile TT 28th May 2009

Headed out to Maidenhead for my second ever time trial. This one organised efficiently by MDCC on the A4 towards Reading and back. I was one of the last starters so by that time in the evening the road was mercifully quiet and I had no adverse encounters with motor traffic. I came in at 27:07 which is not impressive, but an improvement on my first TT in early April (28:19).

Tour of Wessex 24th May 2009

A glorious sunny windless day. This year I opted for the second day of this three day cyclosportive. We were released in groups of about 50 onto the road and I managed to get into the first 3 or 4 groups leaving Somerton at 0830. Initially feeling good even on the climbs, south through Sherborne and the gorgeous scenery of Lyon's Hill. I was leading the group around here though, looking back at my Garmin statistics, that may not have been wise as I was charting previously unknown (even on the Fred) heart rates. I was in a big group which slimmed down a bit at the first feed at Cerne Abbas where I and around 20 others went straight on.

We headed for the coast via the army firing ranges around Lulworth. I struggled with a few others to keep in contact with the group up to the clifftop. The bunch stopped at this feed, so I did, but I was too slow and by the time I had refuelled etc., I could see the group heading off into the distance and gave chase. For a long time they remained ¼ mile ahead but then they slowly vanished into the distance as we skirted Wareham. After a few lonely minutes, Mr White Assos kit came by towing three others and I suggested a through and off to catch the group. This eventually worked and we were all back together by Winfrith Heath, though the price of the chase was that I was now knackered. I first cracked on the hill out of Milton Abbas at mile 70. I managed the first steep part of the hill but had not appreciated how long it carried on after the left turn. I was one of four dropped on the hill and it was several miles before I could do any share of the work.

We four regained the group by the simple expedient of not stopping at the third feed. I hung on the back for a few miles. However I have not been doing enough long rides and was tired. As the road pitched up again at around mile 80, the one rider behind me overtook and I was dropped again but this time alone. For the next hour I was entirely alone save for a hail of acknowledgment when I passed two riders who had punctured. The last of these regained and passed me indicating that he wished to ride alone.

It was not until mile 98 that the next group finally came by. They were slower paced than my earlier group and were about right for me until in the last couple of miles they upped the pace for the dash to the line. I couldn’t go faster so was dropped for the third time. I pedalled gently to and then through Somerton, for the first time on this otherwise perfectly signed course, not quite sure where I should be going. Oddly the finish was not well signed and I had to ask twice to find it. Anyway I crossed the line at 05:45 for the 112 miles, managing my first Gold at my fourth Tour of Wessex attempt.

This is one of only a handful of UK cyclosportives that comes with my wholehearted recommendation.

Fred Whitton 10th May 2009


Photo courtesy Kirkstone Inn

I feel fortunate to have survived this year’s FWC. This feeling has nothing to do with hills or distances but to my misreading of the one-way system in Ambleside. It is also meant literally. Once over the bridge in Ambleside I thought it was a one way gyratory all the way around and spent the short time available, without slowing, looking to the left. Wrong. I emerged into the path of a car from the right. We all sometimes make mistakes and this was a serious wake-up call. It reinforces my belief in 20mph limits in built up areas to lessen the potential consequences of such folly.

The family came with me this year for a weekend in proper countryside. We enjoyed the usual fine food at the usual Staffordshire pub on the way up. It was a huge disappointment that the Lake Windermere Ferry was closed. By the time we got to the sign on, in Coniston, the heavy rain on the M6 had given way to late afternoon sunshine, ideal for playing hide and seek with my daughters in the grounds of the Hawkshead Youth Hostel and admiring the nearby lambs.

Those staying in the hotel with me included teammates Mike, Alan, Dan and our supporters, Paul and Joanne. Teammates Derwent and Ruth had made separate alternative arrangements as had our club coach and cheerleader Dave and Betty. Most of us got to the Queen’s Head in Hawkshead for pre-ride nosh, booze and merriment, reminiscing about Fred Whittons past and the days when club runs would go from the Maidenhead Pondhouse to the pier end at Weston-super-Mere.

One restless night later, my best hope of a drive to the start opted for a lie-in, dreamily pronouncing the route to the start to be all downhill. I therefore set out for the warm up ride at 0715, aiming for the 0745 start that had been decided upon by Ruth, Mike and me at the Queen’s Head. It was thought we would get the 8 o’clock group without the risk of being dropped on the first hill.

It was sound logic as Mike’s chain misbehaved at the bottom of Hawkshead Hill, so Ruth and I twiddled up without him. He hadn’t quite caught us by the top so we relied upon his steely descending skills and, sure enough, he was back with us in good time to witness my near demise in Ambleside. We found a man in red and black to draft while we relaxed and enjoyed the views of Lake Windermere. Once we turned onto the climb on Holbeck Lane we opted for a lower pace and let him go, though I was reunited with him later as we rode in the same group to Honister. Not far into that climb a train came by powered by a team from Richmond CC. I suggested hopping on board but by the time I looked back neither Mike nor Ruth were with us. The guys from Richmond were strong – they went on to get cracking times- and we picked up a sizeable group, though quite a few dropped off on the upper reaches of Kirkstone. I struggled but (though it may not look it in the photo) just kept contact as we reached the summit Inn where Paul and Joanne shouted support and two Richmond riders stopped to collect drinks.


I only managed 36 mph descending Kirkstone, so lost the group, but was starting to gain when the terrain flattened. I was in luck as the two Richmond riders flew by and I stole a tow back to the bunch. We did a slightly shambolic through and off to the A66 where several groups coalesced for a 30mph run down to Keswick. I opted for the outside line as I deemed it madness to ride in the gutter dodging cats’ eyes at that speed.

The group stuck together through to Honister, the first steep climb and hairy descent. At the summit a chicken passed nonchalantly in front of my wheel and I couldn’t resist asking the marshal why. The group was blown apart but then the first feed at Buttermere was just round the corner anyway.

I headed up Newlands on my own. The day had started cool but dry and I was at Newlands when I got the first taste of things to come. The road had been wetted by some recent drizzle and was distinctly slippery. Over the top the weather brightened and Paul, Joanne, Dave and Betty were all there on Whinlatter to cheer us on. Both Paul and Dave ran alongside giving a frightening impression that they might push me up the hill.

I did the undulating stuff near the coast alone or in small groups, the sun came out and I felt quite warm. Coldfell however lived up to its name this year though we were cheered by the bagpipes. Shortly before the first feed I caught up with Dan. Soon afterwards Dan, Alan and I were all at the Calderbridge feed together. I left alone but soon caught up a group as we headed to Hardknott. As we got there one of them said he wouldn’t get past the cattle grid because of his cramp. I wish he hadn’t because I am convinced that in my case cramp is a largely psychosomatic condition. Thus far it had been a largely windless day but as I started the climb a sudden headwind came from nowhere. I managed the first hairpins just fine. Someone was standing by the side of the road on the less steep middle section offering cups of water. As I declined, I suffered an acute cramp in both calves. He largely broke my fall but I ended up with my left hip in the stream by the side of the road and my bike and legs lying across the road in the path of the frustrated Rover driver who had been pursuing me up the hill. I lay there, a helpless obstruction on the road for about 30 seconds, before I could even uncleat. I got up stretched my legs, walked a bit and somehow remounted but the cramp came back before the final steep hairpins so I got off and walked those rather than risk another fall. By now the road was starting to get wet and cars were spinning about. I found it an effort to walk those hairpins and was nearly mowed down by a backward slipping car. I hopped back on for the final section of the climb and felt a bit of a fraud as people clapped and cheered and said ‘well done’ as I reached the summit.

The storm clouds continued to gather and the hail started as I descended Hardknott making an already technical descent somewhat hairy. On the final hairpin I started to slide so just released the brakes and went for it. I managed Wrynose without sliding or cramping on the way up. For the descent the hailstones which had been falling had settled unmelted onto the road adding an additional challenge. Once I descended there was heavy rain from there to the finish.

Having dibbed my dibber I found my family sheltering under the Sports Centre eves looking a bit disconsolate. Concern was expressed about how we were going to get out of the mudfield so I was encouraged to collect my certificate smartly so we could go. I was soaked through and didn’t argue. A quick shower at the Youth Hostel and a pizza in Lancaster preceded the long drive home.

I had aimed for sub-8 hours and not to walk. I comfortably achieved the former target with a finish time of 07:27. That made up for the fact that I did not achieve the latter.

As always a terrifically organised event with cheerful marshals in all the right places and good food at the feeds. Definitely the top cyclosportive in the UK. At this time of year I always feel I may have done my last Fred Whitton, but is it conceivable that I could manage a better time and no walking? We’ll see.